Bears LB Young has survived Pace/Fox purge of prior regimes

SHARE Bears LB Young has survived Pace/Fox purge of prior regimes

The Bears cut outside linebacker Willie Young. (AP)

There’s an old saying in pro football: Fans aren’t rooting for the players, they’re rooting for laundry.

In the Bears’ case this season, it would mean they’re cheering for replaceable humans wearing some combination of orange, white and blue uniforms, with helmets on top and numbers on the front and back.

Yep, it’s a business. Guys come and go, even if the numbers stay.

But, man, have they come and gone with the nearly faceless Bears.

Eighty-three of the 90 current Bears have been with the team for two regular seasons or less. Thirty-six are in their first season. Thirty-two are in their second.

Second-year coach John Fox and second-year general manager Ryan Pace might be eager to shed the vestiges of the Marc Trestman and Lovie Smith eras, but in some cases it seems they’ve been scraping the hieroglyphs off the walls of the Bears’ man cave.

Just when you start to know who somebody is, he’s likely to be given airfare out of town.

Veteran safety Antrel Rolle came to the Bears last season, started in the defensive backfield, began to be known as a leader, did a lot of stuff on radio, tore up his knee in November and was dumped by the Bears in May.

‘‘Whatever team I go to, I hope that Chicago’s on the table because I’m coming to bust their ass,’’ he said after being dumped.

Rolle’s 33, a free agent and likely done in the NFL. But you get his point.

Then we lost town favorite and all-around running threat Matt Forte. And also Martellus ‘‘The Black Unicorn’’ Bennett. The big tight end caught an impressive 208 passes for more than 2,000 yards in the last three seasons for the Bears, but no matter. He’s with the Patriots now.

And let’s not forget versatile offensive lineman Matt Slauson. He was released during the May bloodletting, too. And though we really can’t get that worked up over big, grunting guys in the pit, Slauson was a friendly, well-spoken chap whose story of overcoming a crippling speech impediment was both inspiring and humanizing.

Of course, none of it matters when it comes to salary caps and meat-on-the-hoof NFL business decisions. Still, when projected starting center Hroniss Grasu went down for the season, it wasn’t hard to think that dumping Slauson, even with his just-under $3 million salary this season, might be one of the Bears’ biggest offseason blunders.

At any rate, there are a lot more guys on this team you don’t know than you do.

With all the recent injuries and nearly two dozen players sitting out the other day, you might see your next-door neighbor starting in the opener at cornerback, where the Bears have gone through Kyle Fuller replacements faster than acorns go through a rain gutter.

You’ll be cheering for a few well-knowns — Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Long, Robbie Gould and a couple of more — but not many.

To reinforce that laundry message, consider that 11 of the 22 starters from the 2015 season opener are no longer with the Bears.

Nevertheless, some wily old players, such as third-year Bear Willie Young, a linebacker in Fox’s 3-4 scheme, are certain  the jerseys will come together as a force.

‘‘I’m real confident with the personnel we have right now,’’ Young said after practice Tuesday. ‘‘The guys we have, from first team to fourth, they can all come out and make plays. I can’t really see a major drop-off.’’

In truth, the final roster won’t have fourth-string guys on it, but there might be players more anonymous than witness-protection folks on it.

Young figures to be a Bear for a while longer, so remember his number is 97. And check it out when he does his trademark celebration after sacking the quarterback.

His dance is actually a fishing pantomime, with the particular type of fishing varying on the sack, the game situation and the climate.

His ice-fishing mime during a winter game last season was exhilarating.

‘‘I’m original, man! I’m original,’’ he said. ‘‘You don’t find me too often.’’

One thing he hasn’t done yet is giant marlin fishing.

‘‘It’d be kind of hard to do the expression about that, you know?’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve thought about it. But I can’t get on the ground and do it.’’ (It’s against NFL rules.)

Can’t do a whale, either.

‘‘People would take that the wrong way,’’ he said. ‘‘I use a harpoon or something, and people would be saying that’s, like, cruelty to animals. When I fish, I catch and release, absolutely. The fish I don’t eat, that is. Most of the fish that I target, I eat.’’

So there you go. Something, somebody, to root for. A fisherman.

No. 97. As we prepare to cut bait.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.


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